Data Brokerage


Data brokerage is a multi-billion-dollar ecosystem of companies collecting, aggregating, analyzing, buying, selling, and sharing data on individuals, ranging from demographic information to political affiliations to income data, health conditions, and GPS locations. The buyers of this data span, among others, advertising firms, insurance providers, banks and financial institutions, US law enforcement agencies, abusive individuals, and criminal scammers—and, potentially, even foreign actors. Duke’s data brokerage project researches this ecosystem—its players, its practices, and its implications for civil rights, consumer privacy, personal safety, national security, and democracy itself. It engages in quantitative and qualitative research, publishes commentaries and works with media to educate the public on these practices, and engages with US state and federal policymakers as well as privacy practitioners globally on the data brokerage ecosystem.

Media Coverage

Data brokers resist pressure to stop collecting info on pregnant people,” Politico, August 1, 2022.

These Companies Know When You’re Pregnant—And They’re Not Keeping It Secret,” Gizmodo, July 30, 2022.

Federal privacy legislation progresses, but concerns about data brokers loom,” CyberScoop, July 20, 2022.

The Surveillance Threat After Roe Is Worse Than You Think,” Washington Monthly, July 15, 2022.

“Morning Tech,” Politico, July 11, 2022.

Lobbying heats up to protect evidence in potential abortion cases,” Politico, July 8, 2022.

Google Allowed a Sanctioned Russian Ad Company to Harvest User Data for Months,” ProPublica, July 1, 2022.

After Roe’s fall, the Pentagon has no answers for female service members,” Politico, June 24, 2022.

Lawmakers want to restrict user data sales to nations like China, Russia,” CyberScoop, June 23, 2022.

What is Meta Pixel, the code detected on health system websites in NC and beyond?The Charlotte Observer, June 20, 2022.

‘Lock it down right now’: Abortion rights advocates prepare for a new wave of digital security threats,” Politico, June 17, 2022.

Ban on sale of health data by brokers introduced in Senate ahead of abortion ruling,” SC Magazine, June 17, 2022.

Democrats want to block tech companies from handing data to anti-abortion activists and law enforcement,” The Independent, June 16, 2022.

Last Week Tonight takes on data brokers, with Duke’s Justin Sherman,” Debugger (podcast), May 25, 2022.

The third-party brokers who make millions selling your data to political groups,” Open Secrets, April 21, 2022.

Brokers’ sales of U.S. military personnel data overseas stir national security fears,” CyberScoop, April 20, 2022.

Who Is Policing the Location Data Industry?The Markup, February 24, 2022.

Oracle’s pending purchase of Cerner raises privacy concerns,” Health Data Management, February 23, 2022.

Life360 Says It Will Stop Selling Precise Location Data,” The Markup, January 28, 2022.

Morning Brew,” Morning Brew, December 22, 2021.

Senators scrutinize shady third-party data brokers,” Roll Call, December 14, 2021.

Latest Senate hearing casts wide net on US data brokerage,” International Association of Privacy Professionals, December 9, 2021.

Warren, Racine Target Amazon’s ‘Inflated’ Prices,” Communications Daily, December 8, 2021.

D.C. attorney general takes antitrust case against Amazon to the U.S. Senate,” Washington Business Journal, December 7, 2021.

Amazon Takes Most Heat As Senate Scrutinizes Tech Sector,” Law360, December 7, 2021.

Senators turn up the heat on Amazon, data brokers during hearing,” The Hill, December 7, 2021.

Witnesses Urge Congress to Act on Data Brokers,” Vital Law, December 7, 2021.

Senate Finance to scrutinize Amazon, data brokers,” Politico, December 7, 2021.

The Popular Family Safety App Life360 Is Selling Precise Location Data on Its Tens of Millions of Users,” The Markup, December 6, 2021.

For Sale: Your Personal Information,” Policy 360 (podcast), September 22, 2021.

Notes from the Electronic Cottage: Data Brokers,” WERU (radio), September 16, 2021.

The Lawfare Podcast: Data Brokers and National Security,” Lawfare (podcast), September 1, 2021.

POLITICO Digital Bridge: Trade and Tech Council details—Data flows peril—Gig workers rejoice,” Politico Europe, August 26, 2021.

House E&C leaders fret over Senate broadband plan,” Politico, August 24, 2021.

Report: Data brokers advertise US military personnel data,” International Association of Privacy Professionals, August 23, 2021.

Wyden urges ban on sale of Americans’ personal data to ‘unfriendly’ foreign governments,” The Washington Post, April 15, 2021.

HBO Feature

“Data Brokers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” HBO, April 10, 2022. Featured research and work by Justin Sherman.

Policy Impact

"The Location Data Market, Data Brokers, and Threats to Americans’ Freedoms, Privacy, and Safety." Written Testimony of Justin Sherman before the Massachusetts Legislature Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. Hearing on Pending Legislation.  June 26, 2023.

"Data Brokerage, the Sale of Individuals' Data and Risks to Americans' Privacy, Personal Safety and National Security." Testimony of Justin Sherman before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Hearing on "Who is Selling Your Data - a Critical Examination of the Role of Data Brokers in the Digital Economy."  April 19, 2023.

Wyden, Lummis, Whitehouse, Rubio and Hagerty Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Americans’ Private Data from Hostile Foreign Governments,”, June 23, 2022.

Warren, Wyden, Murray, Whitehouse, Sanders Introduce Legislation to Ban Data Brokers from Selling Americans’ Location and Health Data,”, June 15, 2022.

Data Brokerage and Threats to U.S. Privacy and Security.” Testimony of Justin Sherman before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. Hearing on “Promoting Competition, Growth, and Privacy Protection in the Technology Sector.” December 7, 2021.

Blog Posts


Justin Sherman, Hayley Barton, Aden Klein, Brady Kruse, and Anushka Srinivasan, "Data Brokers and the Sale of Data on U.S. Military Personnel," Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, November 2023,

Limor Shmerling Magazanik and Luke Schwartz, "Health Sector Innovation Through Data Sharing: The Role of Government," Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, September 2023,

"Response from Duke University’s Data Brokerage Research Project - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Request for Information Regarding Data Brokers and Other Business Practices Involving the Collection and Sale of Consumer Information," July 2023,

Alistair Simmons, "Data Brokers and the Sale of Students’ Data," Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, July 2023,

Joanne Kim, “Data Brokers and the Sale of Americans' Mental Health Data,” Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, February 13, 2023,

"Response from Duke University’s Data Brokerage Research Project - Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Rule on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security", October 2022,

Justin Sherman, “The FTC May (Finally) Protect Americans From Data Brokers,” WIRED, August 31, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “Examining data broker Equifax’s relationships with millions of employers,” Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, August 29, 2022,

Alistair Simmons and Justin Sherman, “Data Brokers, Elder Fraud, and Justice Department Investigations,” Lawfare, July 25, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “The U.S. Needs Controls on Data Brokerage,” Tech Policy Press, June 24, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “Your Health Data Might Be for Sale,” Slate Magazine, June 22, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “Examining State Bills on Data Brokers,” Lawfare, May 31, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “Delaware must regulate the shady data broker industry,” Delaware Online, March 27, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “The Open Data Market and Risks to National Security,” Lawfare, February 3, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “Data broker Oracle just acquired millions’ sensitive health data,” Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, January 14, 2022,

Justin Sherman, “Data Brokers Know Where You Are—and Want to Sell That Intel,” WIRED, August 23, 2021,

Justin Sherman, “Data Brokers Are Advertising Data on U.S. Military Personnel,” Lawfare, August 23, 2021,

Justin Sherman, Data Brokers and Sensitive Data on US Individuals (Durham: Duke Sanford School of Public Policy, August 2021),

Justin Sherman, “Third-Party Code Tracking and U.S. National Security,” Triangle Privacy Research Hub, August 4, 2021,

Kamran Kara-Pabani and Justin Sherman, “How a Norwegian Government Report Shows the Limits of CFIUS Data Reviews,” Lawfare, May 3, 2021,

Harrison Grant, “The Norwegian Consumer Council’s Work on Large Platforms and Data Transmissions from Mobile Apps,” Triangle Privacy Research Hub, April 28, 2021,

“Data Brokers Are a Threat to Democracy,” WIRED, April 13, 2021,

Justin Sherman, “Federal Privacy Rules Must Get ‘Data Broker’ Definitions Right,” Lawfare, April 8, 2021,